How do you write in the point of view of a small child in a novel for adults?
Derrick posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I’m working on a story that begins with a five-year-old girl lost in the woods, and I’m trying to use third person limited POV. People I’ve shown this to (critique partners and such) have commented that the language I use in these scenes is “too advanced” for such a young girl.
For example, if she’s walking through the forest past the magnificent trees, but her vocabulary wouldn’t include “magnificent,” am I stuck using a simpler set of words for her POV? Or can I use my words for describing the environment, and her words for interior monologue and emotion?
How can I keep the scene with my very young character from sounding like a Dr. Suess book?
(PS, she doesn’t stay 5 forever — that would be a tough book to write.)
Randy sez: This is tough. Your goal as a novelist is to give your reader the illusion that she is your point-of-view character.
You have one advantage here: Every adult on the planet was once five years old. So your reader can well identify with that stage in life.
The problem, as you say, is to avoid giving it a Dr. Seuss feel. This is similar to the problem writers always have when writing dialect. If you’ve ever struggled through UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, you know how hard it is to read excessively realistic dialect.
The usual solution when writing dialect is to be realistic on the grammatical patterns but to use correct spellings for all words. So you get the flavor right, even if it’s not precisely accurate. Feelings here are more important than literal accuracy.
There are a couple of novels you ought to read, because they are best-selling novels by major authors and they feature young children. Here they are:
THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR, by Jean Auel. An orphaned four year old girl in Ice Age Europe is adopted by a clan of Neanderthals.
ENDER’S GAME, by Orson Scott Card. A six year old boy is taken to an orbiting Battle School to be trained to save mankind from the coming invasion of alien “Buggers.”
Read them both and see how each of these authors did it.
Jean Auel wrote her story in omniscient voice, which let her use adult language to tell the story and to occasionally shift into the child’s mind when necessary.
Orson Scott Card used a character with an extremely high IQ. Even so, when inside Ender’s head, he used simple words and simple sentence patterns. You don’t need big words to tell big ideas.
Either of these ways works, Derrick. Take your pick.
But first things first. Read both of these books. Get a feel for the rhythms these authors use.
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